The best octopus books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about octopus and why they recommend each book.

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Everything Is Totally Fine

By Zac Smith,

Book cover of Everything Is Totally Fine

Ranging from very short to very bizarre, these stories are out there. One story is about a melancholy octopus who travels to the White House. Other stories are about ants, mice, birds, dogs, sharks, and whales doing mundane things or experiencing existential crises. Weird, surreal, and whacky, Zac Smith is on a mission to have fun with his stories. This book may not be for everyone. But, if it does tickle your fancy, then you’ll be glad you immersed yourself in Zac Smith’s unique mind.


Who am I?

I'm a writer of humorous fiction living in Austin, Texas. I enjoy writing novels about unusual friendships and the healing power that comes when people just shut up and listen to each other. Many of my stories have the odd-couple dynamic on full display and I love to explore what would happen if people with very different backgrounds and opinions are forced to deal with each other. I do have a couple of novels that wouldn’t seem to be humorous on the surface, but there is an element of humor or comedy that runs through all of my work. My next novel, The Codger and the Sparrow, will be published by TCU Press in 2024.


I wrote...

To Squeeze a Prairie Dog: An American Novel

By Scott Semegran,

Book cover of To Squeeze a Prairie Dog: An American Novel

What is my book about?

This novel is a story of humorous literary fiction about five under-appreciated bureaucrats who forge an unlikely bond of love and respect while trying to win a pot of cash from the government that will change their lives forever. The lowly government workers seem to be stuck in a mind-numbing routine. But when one of them discovers a bug in the mainframe system that could save the State of Texas millions of dollars, this crew of unusual friends is elevated to stardom by the governor. A snooping reporter unearths the randomness of the coworkers’ discovery and reveals the governor’s darkest secret to the world. A satirical look at the machinations of government and the healing power of friendship between unlikely cohorts.

The Soul of an Octopus

By Sy Montgomery,

Book cover of The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

This is the book that made me love the octopus! With humor, brilliance, and empathy, naturalist Sy Montgomery explores the physical and emotional world of largely captive octopuses, and their impact on the caregivers and divers who encounter them. As Montogomery attempts to bridge the gap between her own human consciousness and that of the octopuses, they reveal themselves to be intelligent and spirited creatures with complex emotional lives.


Who am I?

As a child, let loose to wander the woods around my home, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by animals, not only the dogs and cats we kept at home, but the wild critters I encountered. As I grew, so did my admiration and respect for the creatures that live in the wild. When I volunteered at Oregon’s Washington Park Zoo, and met Senior Elephant Keeper Roger Henneous, a new level of interest opened up as I observed the relationships between the animals and those who care for them. It bothered me that I often read nasty things about keepers, when I knew that most are devoted to those in their care.


I wrote...

Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper's Life Among the Herd

By Melissa Crandall,

Book cover of Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper's Life Among the Herd

What is my book about?

“You can make an elephant do one of two things: run away, or kill you. But you can get an elephant to do a number of amazing things.”

Elephant Speak offers an unvarnished look at one man’s loving, compassionate, often frustrating, and occasionally life-threatening 30-year relationship with the largest herd of breeding elephants in North America. The story of Roger Henneous and the elephants at what is now the Oregon Zoo celebrates the extraordinary bond that can exist between humans and elephants, and examines what we owe them in order to assure their continued survival.

Other Minds

By Peter Godfrey-Smith,

Book cover of Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

I love the way this accessible book presents evolutionary theory of mind through an exploration of cephalopod intelligence. If we wish to explore alien intelligence, it helps to recognize the varieties of intelligent life right here on earth. Godfrey-Smith’s telling is intriguing, intelligent, heartwarming, and touching. At such a critical time on our planet, how can we better understand and care for our fellow earthlings? And, What does this teach us about ourselves?  


Who am I?

As an interdisciplinary scholar with professional musical training, I surveyed the literature in cognitive science for conceptual frameworks that would shed light on tacit processes in musical activity. I was tired of research that treats the musician either as a “lab rat” not quite capable of fully understanding what they do or as a “channel” for the mysterious and divine. I view musicians as human beings who engage in meaningful activity with instruments and with each other. Musicians are knowledgeable, skilled, and deeply creative. The authors on this list turn a scientific lens on human activity that further defines how we make ourselves through meaningful work and interactions.


I wrote...

Grounding the Analysis of Cognitive Processes in Music Performance: Distributed Cognition in Musical Activity

By Linda T. Kaastra,

Book cover of Grounding the Analysis of Cognitive Processes in Music Performance: Distributed Cognition in Musical Activity

What is my book about?

This book presents four case studies of expert thinking in instrumental music performance. It draws uniquely on dominant paradigms from the fields of cognitive science, ethnography, anthropology, psychology, and psycholinguistics to develop an ecologically valid framework for the analysis of cognitive processes in musical activity. By presenting a close analysis of activities, including instrumental performance on the bassoon, lessons on the guitar, and a group rehearsal, Kaastra provides new insights into the person/instrument system, the musician’s use of informational resources, and the organization of perceptual experience during a musical performance. Engaging in musical activity is shown to be a highly dynamic and collaborative process invoking tacit knowledge and coordination as musicians identify targets of focal awareness for themselves, their colleagues, and their students.

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

By Ben Loory,

Book cover of Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

I first heard Loory’s mirthful story “The Man and The Moose” while sitting in my car in my southern college town. He read it on an episode of This American LifeIt was a Wednesday ritual of mine, sitting in that car and listening to stories and giving my entire being to be within them, to be completely enraptured and emphatic for at least that one hour. After hearing the story, I told it to whoever would listen. I remember the story and his voice and the way in which the inanimate became animated, the unpersonafiable personified. That story was a treasure and lives with me. It will, as with the others in this collection, live with you, too.


Who am I?

As a journalist and author and a young father, I’ve come to seek more vigorously things that make me smile, things I can cherish and appreciate. My most recent book is dedicated to “the troubled, in trouble, and once troubled.” In promoting the book, I’ve often said I still feel fairly troubled—which is true. Demons never die, we just live to learn with them. So while reading the below books I’ve discovered hallowed moments which fill a person to the brim. After each of these reads I felt that I could surmount most anything.


I wrote...

Troubled: The Failed Promise of America's Behavioral Treatment Programs

By Kenneth R. Rosen,

Book cover of Troubled: The Failed Promise of America's Behavioral Treatment Programs

What is my book about?

I knew firsthand the brutal emotional, physical, and sexual abuse carried out at "troubled-teen" programs. I lived it. In Troubled, I recount the lives of four troubled teens on their own scarred journeys through several programs into adulthood. Based on three years of reporting and more than one hundred interviews with other teens, their parents, psychologists, and health-care professionals, Troubled combines harrowing storytelling with investigative journalism to expose the disturbing truth about the massively profitable, sometimes fatal, grossly unchecked redirection industry. Not without hope, I believe Troubled ultimately delivers an emotional, crucial tapestry of coming of age, neglect, exploitation, trauma, and fraught redemption.

Monarchs of the Sea

By Danna Staaf,

Book cover of Monarchs of the Sea: The Extraordinary 500-Million-Year History of Cephalopods

Evolution, extinction, evo-devo, a “vampire squid from hell”—what more could a paleo-curious reader ask for? Staaf keeps it interesting and breezy as she takes a deep dive into the mysteries of that most ancient and fascinating group, the cephalopods. The fossil record for this extraordinary, important, and long-surviving class (which includes ammonoids and nautiloids as well as the shell-free squids and octopuses) goes back 500 million years. The book is full of “wows,” like a 20-foot-long fossil shell, and the fact that ink has been reconstituted from fossil belemnites and used for illustration. Just wow.


Who am I?

When I was young, I worked on fishing boats in Alaska and developed an affection for weird sea creatures. All manner of unusual marine life would come up on the line, like wild-looking sea stars, pointy-nosed skates, and alien-looking ratfish. Later, I graduated from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks with a degree in Communications. One of my early jobs was with the Washington Department of Wildlife public information department, writing about fish, as well as other wildlife-related topics. When I moved to Bozeman, Montana, I had the opportunity to create content for a museum exhibit on early life forms. That hooked me on all things paleo. It is a joy to write about and share the things I love—like oddball creatures from deep time.


I wrote...

Resurrecting the Shark: A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil

By Susan Ewing,

Book cover of Resurrecting the Shark: A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil

What is my book about?

In 1993, Alaskan artist and paleo-fish freak Ray Troll stumbled upon the weirdest fossil he had ever seen: a platter-sized spiral of tightly wound shark teeth. This chance encounter in the basement of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County sparked Troll's obsession with Helicoprion, a mysterious monster shark from deep time. In 2010, tattooed amateur strongman and returning Iraq War veteran Jesse Pruitt was also severely smitten by a Helicoprionfossil in a museum basement in Idaho. These two bizarre-shark disciples found each other, and an unconventional band of collaborators grew serendipitously around them, determined to solve the puzzle of the tooth whorl once and for all.

In this groundbreaking book, Susan Ewing reveals these revolutionary insights into what Helicoprion looked like and how the tooth whorl functioned, pushing this dazzling and awe-inspiring beast into the spotlight of modern science.

The Rainbow Fish

By Marcus Pfister,

Book cover of The Rainbow Fish

I remember this story from when I was little. I would stroke the shiny scales with my fingers and admire the octopus in his cave. Little me couldn’t believe the fish would give away his scales! Didn’t he want to keep them all? The message about the happiness that comes with generosity was certainly one I needed to hear...repeatedly.


Who am I?

I am writing this list because I am a sea monster. I’m the sort of sea monster who loves merpeople, pirates, sharks, dolphins, octopuses, shipwrecks, and…did I miss anything? Oh yes, piranhas. Some people have pointed out that I look like a regular adult human, but really it’s just a trick of the light. I like to make stories, draw pictures, and build miniature environments for stop motion animated films. My typical day is spent gluing miniature flowers to miniature rocks, or screwing miniature chairs to miniature floors. It’s the sort of job that makes you feel like magic is around every corner. Because it is, probably.


I wrote...

Can I Give You a Squish?

By Emily Neilson,

Book cover of Can I Give You a Squish?

What is my book about?

My book takes place in the warm waters of a kelp forest, where Kai, a little mer-boy, loves to give squishes! But not everyone is a fan of Kai’s spirited embrace, which he discovers soon after squishing a pufferfish, who swells up in fright! Kai feels awful; but with the help of his underwater friends, he figures out another way to show his affection, and then everyone demonstrates their preferred ways of being greeted. Because, as Kai realizes, “Every fish likes their own kind of squish.”

What I see in each of the books on this list is everything I could possibly have hoped to put into mine--magical underwater adventures, wonderful world-building, and best of all: compelling and lovable characters.

Lily and the Octopus

By Steven Rowley,

Book cover of Lily and the Octopus

Each time I bring a new dog home, I know the price I’ll pay later is outliving them. I read Lily and the Octopus, a novel about a man caring for his 12-year-old dachshund as she succumbs to a brain tumor, shortly after I put down my 12-year-old golden Stella. It’s so lonely to lose a dog, but I found great comfort in reading about another person’s undying love for his companion. Although I needed Kleenex to read this book, it was also funny – he talks to Lily about cute boys, and there’s a quirky touch of magic realism – he sees the tumor as a talking octopus growing out of her forehead. Rowley made me focus on the simple ways Stella made me happy and reminded me that those memories were her lasting gift. 


Who am I?

I’ve spent the last 21 years in the company of a golden retriever, all through my career as a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer – and ever since I left the paper in 2015 to write memoirs. I wrote a memoir for an Iranian child soldier, a memoir about my childhood beekeeping with my grandfather in Big Sur, and it was only a matter of time before I turned to my dog for inspiration. After two perfectly happy golden retrievers, Edie’s extreme anxiety baffled me: I hired trainers, behaviorists, specialist veterinarians, read everything I could on the canine brain, tried CBD oil, and even a pet psychic to understand her emotions.  


I wrote...

Loving Edie: How a Dog Afraid of Everything Taught Me to Be Brave

By Meredith May,

Book cover of Loving Edie: How a Dog Afraid of Everything Taught Me to Be Brave

What is my book about?

Loving Edie is the story of how my wife and I came to love our golden retriever puppy because of, not in spite of, her anxiety disorder. Edie can’t handle sidewalks, or traffic, or crowds, or umbrellas, or thunder. She’s a country dog who needs solitude - and daily Prozac - to cope. Although she was the not the dog we wanted, she turned out to be the dog we needed, teaching us to slow down our lives along with hers.

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